Two symbolic flights took off from U.S. soil on Wednesday, coasting swiftly over the thin lines of national borders en route to two of our closest neighbors.
One landed in Santa Clara, Cuba. It was the first commercial flight from America to Cuba in more than 50 years, part of President Barack Obama’s normalization of relations with the former adversary. The flight ferried officials, visitors and a five-person Cuban-American crew.
The other carried Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, and landed in Mexico. Trump accepted an invitation from Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto with his usual showman’s flair for a first meeting with a sitting head of state. Peña Nieto heads a state Trump has built a candidacy lambasting.
One flight is evidence of buried hatchets and slowly re-established ties with a southern neighbor. In what may prove to be a foreign policy achievement of Obama’s presidency, in 2015 the administration reinstated diplomatic ties that had been severed since 1961.
Trump’s flight and the outrage Mexicans displayed in response are a stark reminder of the damage he has done to U.S.-Mexican relations via insults and absurd pledges. In Mexico, Trump departed from his campaign’s divisive rhetoric as he has done in the past, always returning to his bombastic self.
Mexico is our third-largest trading partner, with goods and services exchanged totaling more than $583 billion in 2015, according to federal figures. We share 2,000 miles of border as well as the enduring ties of immigrants traveling north and south.
The United States and Mexico have legitimate shared concerns — a more universally fair trade policy, mending a border region that is characterized by too much violence and sorrow. And despite improvements, the United States has a long way to go with Cuba. True economic exchange has been stalled and human rights abuses continue.
A single flight won’t change that, but it’s heading in the right direction of being better neighbors. Future emissaries to Mexico should follow suit.